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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 03:30 GMT
Camp X-Ray inmates win concessions
The number refusing meals has dropped to 88
The US authorities have agreed to ease conditions slightly at the Guantanamo detention centre on Cuba after almost two-thirds of its inmates went on hunger strike.

Addressing the detainees by loudspeaker, camp commander General Mike Lehnert made a number of concessions, including allowing inmates to wear turbans, and promising weekly briefings on the progress of legal proceedings against them.

General Lehnert also told the detainees that they will be judged fairly

Major Stephen Cox
The hunger strike had been joined by 194 inmates, but following General Lehnert's address the number who boycotted Thursday's evening meal dropped to 88, a spokesman said.

The detainees said the protest was in response to an incident on Tuesday when a detainee was forcibly stripped of a turban he had made out of a sheet and was wearing during prayers.

Legal concerns

But in speaking to detainees, military commanders also found underlying tension over the uncertain legal situation facing them, a camp spokesman, Major Stephen Cox, said.

  • Buckets for toilets
  • Thin foam mattresses
  • Three daily "culturally appropriate" meals

      Clickable guide: Inside Camp X-Ray

  • Medical personnel have been monitoring the detainees and are prepared to feed them intravenously if needed, Major Cox said.

    "They don't know what is going to happen to them. They don't know when something might happen. They don't know if something will happen to them," he said.

    The wearing of turbans had been banned for fear that they could be used to conceal weapons, but now that rule has been revoked.

    The authorities say they reserve the right, however, to inspect the headgear at any time.

    Since rules were relaxed, correspondents have seen several detainees wearing turbans fashioned from white bed sheets.

    Human rights fears

    The detainees have complained about a lack of understanding by the guards of Islamic religious customs and practices, officials said.

    General Lehnert promised them respect for their religion, and said they would given access to books other than the Koran.

    A prisoner is moved by two Camp X-Ray guards
    Inmates will now be given access to books other than the Koran
    "He told them at this point he could not to tell them how long they will be here or what will happen to them in the future," Major Cox said.

    "General Lehnert also told the detainees that they will be judged fairly."

    The protest is the first at the camp since inmates began arriving at the remote US naval base in Cuba in January.

    Amnesty International said it "highlights the dangers of the legal limbo into which the prisoners have been thrown".

    "This latest development underscores the urgent need for the United States to acknowledge that all of the prisoners are covered by the Geneva Conventions," Amnesty spokesman Alistair Hodgett said.

    The BBC's Paul Welsh
    "The incident of the turban... set off the whole protest"
    US Programme at Human Rights Watch's Jamie Fellner
    "We should be focusing on why they are on hunger strike"
    See also:

    27 Feb 02 | Americas
    Camp X-ray: The legal options
    12 Feb 02 | Americas
    UN speaks out on Afghan detainees
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